Thursday, August 27, 2015

Master of Horses: Gallic Invasions and State Mobilisations in the Third Century, BC.

Well. Someone didn't get to the library until 1PM Tuesday; and it so happens that it closes at 5 on Tuesdays, and that there turns out to be a lot more to say about technology in the second half of July than I expected. Did you know that a 24lb "disintegrating uranium" bomb is as effective as a 1-ton V2? Just as well the Germans didn't finish theirs before the end of the war, don't you think? 

(Also, I lost a good three hours work mishandling OneDrive. Stupid cloud.)

So, something else, today.

The Stickpin Fire has now burnt out a thousand square kilometers of Washington state, approaching within 4 km of the Canadian border at Grand Forks, where evacuation alerts have been issued to districts southeast of the rivers. My Dad's retirement home is, fortunately,not in the alerted areas. 

But who knows what will happen if "extreme events" force the firefighters to "cease suppression efforts" and abandon the wall of firebreaks they have  built to contain this historic fire. It will be a sad ending to a summer of heroic mobilisation if the wildfires enter the Town of Grand Forks.

Fortunately, relief may be on the way, as the first of what is hoped will be a long series of equinoctal storms makes landfall in the Lower Mainland early tomorrow before extending inland. The seasons are turning. The day is not far off when the firefighters come down from the ranges to rejoin civil society. 

For this year, anyway. Meanwhile, from Calgary, where air quality is now officially worse than Beijing's due to a fire 700km away, Deborah Yedlin denounced yesterday any attempt to discuss global warming in hearings over a new pipeline proposal on the grounds that "economists" say that it would be a "compositional fallacy." "You can't talk about that. It's illogical!"


Then none was for a party; then all were for the state; 
Then the great man helped the poor, and the poor man loved the great. 
Then lands were fairly portioned; then spoils were fairly sold: 
The Romans were like brothers in the brave days of old. 

Now Roman is to Roman more hateful than a foe, 
And the Tribunes beard the high, and the Fathers grind the low. 
As we wax hot in faction, in battle we wax cold: 
Wherefore men fight not as they fought in the brave days of old.

And, all over again, we can wonder what the hell Thomas Macaulay was on about. Oh, sure, he was one of those "often wrong, never in doubt" people who do not always question their priors. But this time, he did! As he says, the Horatius at the Bridge is written in the voice of a conservative Roman of the First Century, BC, idealising the old days. Macaulay, an Edinburgh Review Liberal, if ever there was one, fought reactionaries in his day because he knew exactly what the kind of thing to which this kind of thinking led. The Corn Laws, of course, which suggests, given that they've come back since 1945 under a new name without ruining the kingdom that in the long rear mirror of history, we can wonder whether the fuss wasn't overblown. But never mind that. If a thinking reactionary were to want to criticise Macaulay at this late date, it would be over the fact that he wrote The Lays of Ancient Rome while participating in the Governor-General's council that paved the way for  the '57, Unintended consequences and all that.

We know better then Macaualy in a more important sense. Ancient Rome is weird. Its mythic past is deep and mysterious, better attacked by archaeologists than by taking anything that, say, Livy says, seriously. We don't even know where half their temples were, or what their civic religion was on about, possibly even more than half the time.

On 15 October, at the close of the season of ariculture and war, after the winter wheat is sown, and four days before the purification of arms allows the young men of the legions to cross the pomerium and rejoin civil society, two-horse chariots are raced on the Campus Martius at the Nixae. Afterwards, the rightmost horse of the winning team is sacrificed by being transfixed with a spear, and a ritual battle is conducted between two neighbourhoods for its head, which is then nailed up at a prominent place in the victorious neighbourhood, while the tail is dipped in blood and used to anoint the hearth of Rome, and blood may or may not be retained to be compounded into the ointment used to lustrate the shepherds in the 21 April celebration of Rome's foundation.Source: source's caption: Roman biga (two-horse chariot) racing by Gerard Naprous’ Devil’s Horsemen. Available to hire through
I have linked to the Wikipedia article on the October Horse up there, but here it is again for the argument, so that you can confirm my bullet summary of the article, which is an extended summary of experts agreeing that the Romans didn't know what they were doing, since Roman warfare wasn't really about horses, never mind chariots. Dumb Romans! Meanwhile, this post wouldn't exist at all were Third Century Rome not so well understood (we think), thanks to the survival of the whole of the account of the period 264--146BC by of the most scientific of the ancient historians, Polybius.   Who was elected Master of Horse of the Arcadian League before being carried off to Rome, where he made friends of the Scipiones on the strength of being such a fine fellow for field sports. 

War, Roman war, is the default topic of discussion when interest turns to Polybius and the Third Century, for this was the era, and this the book, which gives us the epic story of the wars between Rome and Carthage for mastery of the Mediterranean. H. (Shorter: Carthage, the dominant city of the Tunisian Sahel, which claimed cultural descent from the "Punic" Phoenicians of Lebanon, got into a series of three wars with Rome over who got to run the western Mediterranean basin. It all ended badly, with Carthage being reduced to a Roman colony, but in the middle, war, Hannibal, son of Hasdrubal, in 218BC, led an army from the Carthaginian colonies in Spain through southern France, across the Alps, and then maintained it in Italy for a full 15 years, at various points threatening Roman hegemony.) 
This is probably the least anachronistic portrait of Hannibal available to modern pop culture.

It is Hannibal who gives us our historic version of the Horatius myth. On 2 August 216BC, at Cannae, near Barletta on the alluvial plain of the Otranto River on the Adriatic coast, a Roman army gave battle to the Carthaginians. It did not go well. Depending on how you construe the sources, an army of anywhere between 40,000 and 70,000 Romans or of Romans and their Italian allies was not only defeated but massacred. (Oddly, or not oddly at all if you grant the possibility that he had an agenda, it is the scientific Polybius who gives the higher number, while romantic and unreliable Livy gives the more plausible, lower totals and cites sources.) This is not the "Horatian" part. The "Horatian" part comes when  the Roman-led Italian coalition does not collapse, but rather proceeds to mobilise new and larger armies and, eventually, win the war. Whatever we want to make of the myths of ancient Rome that Macaulay's imaginary reactionary is poetasting, this is the past he is looking back on when he mourns the factionalism and corruption of his day. 

The very strong implication that Macaulay's reactionary is right for the wrong reasons is actually   bog-standard history. Or, no, if I find myself visually referencing George Lucas and Natalie Portman, I'd have to say "foundation myth." The Roman Republic did fall, and it was replaced by an evil Empire.

It has even been argued that its army declined from the superior old Republican "manipular legion" to the "cohort legion" of the Empire, although I've no idea how that hypothesis currently stands, and I refuse to go to the Internet to find out, because there's just so much fanboyism you can take. 

Now, I think that we have some skin in this game of historical interpretation. If a sound public morality is necesary for a Republic to mobilise against an existential threat, it follows that a moral reform can be argued as a prior. No Ewoks, no Horatius. (If that's now what you intended with your absurd Forest Moon of Endor plot, George, I apologise.) In other words, no need to mobilise new armies until after some vague future date when people have been brought back to old fashioned values. The contrary argument, upon which I will stand with an eye to great forest fires burning out whole towns, is to say, fuck it, national mobilisation first, let moral reform take care of itself later. 

As a historian, I might ask whether or not, the Romans were like brothers in the brave days of old?

The facts, for starters: Ancient Rome is unique in societies of its early date for producing and preserving censusses of population, undertaken to assess the miltitary and financial resources of the state. 

(Wikipedia dump, itself extracted mostly from P. A. Brunt.)
CensusPopulationEconomic crisesWarsEpidemics
508 BC130,000
505–504 BC
503 BC120,000
499 or 496 BC
498 BC150,700
493 BC110,000
492–491 BC
486 BC
474 BC103,000474 BC474 BC
465 BC104,714
459 BC117,319
456 BC
454 BC454 BC
440–439 BC
433 BC433 BC
428 BC428 BC
412 BC412 BC
400 BC
396 BC
392 BC152,573392 BC392 BC
390 BC390 BC
386 BC
383 BC383 BC
343–341 BC
340 BC165,000340–338 BC
326–304 BC
323 BC150,000
299 BC
298–290 BC
294 BC262,321
293/292 BC
289 BC272,200
281 BC
280 BC287,222280–275 BC
276 BC271,224276 BC?
265 BC292,234
264–241 BC
252 BC297,797
250 BC250 BC
247 BC241,712
241 BC260,000
234 BC270,713
216 BC216 BC
211–210 BC211–210 BC
209 BC137,108
204 BC214,000204 BC
203 BC
201 BC
200 BC200–195 BC
194 BC143,704
192–188 BC
189 BC258,318
187 BC
182–180 BC
179 BC258,318
176–175 BC
174 BC269,015
171–167 BC
169 BC312,805
165 BC
164 BC337,022
159 BC328,316
154 BC324,000
153 BC
147 BC322,000
142 BC322,442142 BC
138 BC
136 BC317,933
131 BC318,823
125 BC394,736
123 BC
115 BC394,336
104 BC
87 BC
86 BC463,000
75 BC
70 BC910,000
67 BC
65 BC
54 BC
49–46 BC
43 BC
28 BC4,063,000
8 BC4,233,000
14 AD4,937,000
Roman demographic historians tend to fixate on the difference between the 70BC and 28BC census returns. Either the basis for counting people had changed dramatically, in which case you can ake Roman population history go as low as you like, which is usually pretty low if you are making the argument at all ("low counters"), or the Italian population reallly did rise that fast, and something nspecial is going on in the First Century BC, leading to estimates for an Italian population in the middle of the First Century AD which are higher than those for early modern Italy, making this a lost golden age of human economic and social history. ("High Count.") 

But if the "low counters" are right, we can also take the 90BC number against a Third Century anchor. In 225BC, hearing word of an incipient Gallic invasion, Rome carried out an investigation into its actual manpower resources, counting not just the men who paid enough taxes to be eligible for military service, but also counted such of its "proletarians" as could be found. It also requested current manpower counts from its allies to get a sense of their military means. According to the reporting source, probably Fabius Pictor, Rome and its allies had roughly 800,000 men eligible for military service, 90% infantry, and 10% its disposal. That is, I'm pretty cynical about the idea that this was an existential crisis. Anyway,  Comparing this number to the return for 70BC, we come to the conclusion that, due to faction, the unfair distribution of land and sail of spoils, and moral turpitude, the years between 225 and 70BC were pretty bad. Taking a slightly different tack (and authorities) from Macaulay's reactionary, the usual portrait is one in which large slaveholdings owned by aristocrats crowded small farmers off the landscape, reducing the number of free Romans eligible for military service at least, and probably causing a net population decline overall.

We return once again to military arguments here, largely to attempts to count total Roman/Italian battle casualties to test demographic resilience. I find this argument ridiculous, as to assess the cost of war as an average of 1500 battle deaths a year in a period when deaths due to illness on campaign must have swamped actual losses on the day of battle. 

To put it another way, I'm asking for a total revision. 
 "Tumulto Gallica" 

 People have written one heckuva lot about Gauls and Celtic warriors. As with Vikings, it strikes me that at some point erotic fixation needs to be considered alongside historiography. Also, as usual, we have a problem of conflation of dates of sources with dates of events. Our received history of the Gallic menace in Italy starts before 500BC, but comes to us from classical authors begininng with Polybius. Having grabbed a book off the shelves in haste to have something to read at dinner, I can attest that it can be hard to get at solid source criticism. Hogain includes a picture of an inscription which he captions as a record of the Celtic attack on Delphi, a source which, you would think, would take pride of place in any account --but no translation or even much of a citation to its source. 

It turns out to be the Athenian reply to the Aetolian League's invitation to a Soterian Games in honour of Zeus Soter at Delphi, 46 years after the Aetolians saved the sanctuary from barbarians. In Athens' reply, the Athenians position themselves as colleagues in the long-ago campaign, and reposition it as a pan-Hellenic effort. The "barbarians," by attacking Delphi, were threatening all "the Hellenes." The source I link to here is interested in showing that Pausania's Baghdad Bob version of the campaign, in which the Celts are defeated again and again as they get ever closer to Delphi, is not as implausible in its details as it suggests. What it ought to serve to illustrate is that we know a great deal less about what actually happened on the approaches to Delphi in 278BC, and that if we want to throw out the idea of a "Celtic" army descending from the depths of Europe, passing the whole of Macedonia and Thessaly, and then failing to take the treasures of Delphi (Livy says that they actually captured the treasuries), then we can. 

Taking Polybius at his word, much the same events happened at much the same juncture in Italy, with a Gallic host pressing into Roman territory --but, somehow, the results are once again counterintuitive, with Roman armies defeating the Gauls on Gallic territory in Cisalpine Gaul, and then establishing the first centuriation of lands, that is, distribution of colonial lands to Roman soldiers, around Rimini on the approaches to core Gallic territory along the Via Flaminia. 

The cynic, arguing from results, suggests that what matters about the Delphic incursion is that the gold holdings of Delphi were put back into circulation; and that if the alleged Gallic incursion ends with a massive Roman landgrab, effect may actually be cause, and we may be talking about Roman aggression; and that the same may hold true of subsequent Roman "defensive" wars against the Celts. It's in this light that the suggestion that Fabius Pictor's register of manpower included poor Romans is . . . intriguing. It's also the clearest signpost yet that heroic military history might be a very bad guide to the history of these wars. It's well past time to talk about the signposts to ancient history inscribed into the land. Archaeology is not as far along in understanding the Italian past as we would like, but there have been some very useful digs in Umbria, the comparatively high-relief, inland area of peninsular Italy through which the Via Flaminia runs. Guy Bradley,  provides a good summary, which can be yours for a mere £117.

Umbria is the home of the Umbrians. The earliest sources (Herodotus, Strabo and whoever he is quoting) have them spreading from historic Umbria to the headwaters of the Danube, contesting Rimini and Ravenna with incoming Etruscans. So if you thought that these kinds of stories were only told about the "Gauls," and therefore deserved some kind of historigraphic credit a priori. . .Bradley speculates, knew the Umbrians as the coastal people of the Adriatic coast of Italy, which is why we have scattered mentions in Herodotus and Aristotle (the Meterologica has a fascinating fact about the Umbrians making salt by casting ash into water. Shades of Discourses on Salt and Iron!)

Enough, then, of ancient authors. Archaeology shows the beginning of “site stabilisation” in the Final Bronze Age and early Iron Age, with burials showing the occupation of the pre-Roman cities in the fifth and fourth centuries. Archaic sites are typically 500 meter contour, on the boundary between agricultural plain and wooded, pastured upland. The lowland marshes were perhaps drained by the Romans beginning around 230BC, a century or more after the ones in Latium, but exploitation is nevertheless not predominantly pastoral, although some kind of animal-based exploitation of the  uplands could hardly be avoided in a region that contains the main spine of the Appenines, with much of the land above 500 meters in spite of containing the easiest passes of the region.

The Fabius Pictor numbers have the Umbrian nations of the Etruscans and Sabines coming to the aid of Rome with 4000 cavalry and 50,000 infantry. The Umbrians and Sarsinates who occupied the Appenines mustered on the frontiers of Gaul to divert the Boii. 77,000 Samnites, 24,000 Marsi, Marrucania, Frentani and Vestini were mobilised.

Second century Umbria sees the spread of villas at the expense of small farmers marks in Umbrian as well as Roman territories, but the only area of Umbria subject to a full field survey is the basin of the Grubbio. This shows a substantial influx or intensification in the middle of the first century BC, marked by the use of Roman Republic black-slip pottery. Vegetation analysis suggests a gradual intensification of agricultural use of the region going back to the early Iron Age, so this is not more people, but people who import pottery, and is best interpreted as evidence that the region around Iguvium was becoming more implicated in long-range trade in this period than before –or, apparently, after. Along with intensification in the valley bottoms, there must have been intensification in the pastures above, for they were rich. Cicero, De Div, notes that the Umbrians are as skilled at augury as the Arabians, Cilicians and Phrygians, as they, like them, were “chiefly engaged in the rearing of cattle, and so they are constantly wandering over the plains and mountains in winter and summer.”

At this point, readers familiar with the subject may suspect that I have been using Luk de Ligt'Peasants,Citizens and Soldiers: Studies in the Demographic History of Roman Italy,225BC—AD 100 (Cambridge: CUP, 2012). And I have! He has an explanation. He wants to look at theories of geographical distribution of market-oriented agricultural production. Taking Rome as centre, he expects to see concentric zones of orcharding, truck farming and dairying, arable and intensive stock raising extending out from Rome. In the "inner" zone, highly capitalised farming calls for slaves on villas. Further out, however, there is room for free farmers, with the Grubbio evidence suggesting that they conducted market-oriented production on small holdings, which would have been possible in an upland/downland economy in which cattle for sale on the Roman markets would have been raised on the pastures of Umbria. The social crisis over landholding in the Second century becomes not one over land as such, but rather the kind of land people wanted. Landowners who operated large estates preferred slaves, while small free farmers preferred to farm their own land. In the long run this structural imbalance needed to be solved by political action. In the short run, small farmers near Rome were forced into part time work such as muleskinning or construction. Further out, the initial phase indicated by the Grubbio findings would be threatened by the development of regional centres with their own concentric zones, forcing the freeholders even further afield. (And the generals who led them to find barbarians even further away.)

"And this kind of humimliation of Roman expeditionary armies operating hundreds of miles away on the other side of imposing mountain barriers is why the barbarians are such a threat to us Romans. See the politician general with his head on a stick? Wouldn't it be terrible if that happened to more of our leading statesmen?"

Now to get things ass backwards, and do proper credit to a very brave bit of historiography. Alexandre Grandazzi, in his The Foundation of Rome: Myth and History Trans. Jane Marie Todd (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999), wants nothing less than  a history doubly situated, in the sources and their times, and the periods they purport to describe. Whether he's successful in formulating a new model of history writing, I leave to people who can write brilliant TLS reviews. 

That ain't me. What I do want to talk about is Grandazzi's love affair for the Roman sixth century. As he tells us, the canals which drain the marshes and wetland which the impervious bedrock under  the volcanic basins of Latium make so common, were cut in the fifth and fourth centuries BC, in the peri-historical period which Polybius rings in with the Gallic burning of Rome that supposedly eliminated its earlier history. In the earlier phases of Roman (pre-)history, as in the Umbrian case, it was the friable land further of the hill slopes that was farmed. The lower Tiber was more suited to grazing than arable, but it would be a mistake to think that Rome of earlier periods rose out of a grassy plain, like the Rome of the Lower Empire and  Medieval period. (“Desertlike, unhealthy steppe.”) Rather, it was a chokepoint between upland pastures and lowland salt marsh. This is why "all roads lead to Rome." Whether you are coming down from the Latin, Samnite, or Sabine hills, you find your drove roads pinched between the Pontine Marshes and the slopes, and leading you through Rome to the delta of the Tiber. Rome, and its salt trade --even its salt industry, was a bigger deal in the Sixth Century than the Fifth not because of the Gauls or the Etruscans, but because the rise of Latin regional centres damaged its role as a market centre.

Finally, I am going to return to military, or, rather, cavalry history. It will not be news to regular readers of this blog that I link long distance cattle droving to equestrian lifestyles. In Jeremiah B. McCall, The Cavalry of the Roman Republic: Cavalry Combat and Elite Reputations in the middle and late Republic (London and New York: Routledge, 2002), the audacious young scholar takes on the idea that the "equestrian order" was always and necessarily a social elite, so that we must necessarily associate the most egalitarian and militarily successful eras of Roman history with infantry predominance. It is true that  in the earliest days of the Republic, the elite Romans who voted in the prestigious eighteen equestrian centuries received horses subsidised by the state and served in the army as equites equo publico, but as McCall points out, wealthy citizens who could afford to provide their own horses fought as equites equis suis, allowing the Romans to push up their cavalry arm at need --for example, in a tumulto Gallico. The equites equo publico are identified by their role in cult (October Horse, Procession of the Dioscuri), but our military historians, even careful Polybius, note equites usually without distinction. The “equestrian census,” presumably distinguishes the two groups, and it shows that the equites actually lived outside of Rome, as local notables in their own towns. It is inferred that the equites tended to fall into the "lance" model of organisation, with each Roman knight accompanied by two mounted servants.

So when did the Roman citizen cavalry disappear? From 300 to 100, a citizen cavalry contingent was attached to each field army, and allied cavalry as well. These were increasingly supplemented by other cavalry recruited from states outside of Italy. McCall believes that he can date the transition very exactly to the period between 102BC and 50. Marius had citizen cavalry for his wars with the Cimbri and Teutones: Caesar went to Gaul with no citizen cavalry at all, and had 10,000 Gallic cavalry with him in the Civil Wars. Pompey seems to have had 7000 Roman and Italian cavalry, the “flower of Italy,” but this was a last gasp. For McCall, officer and staff positions replace cavalry service for the elites of the Roman countryside.  

My interpretation, of course, is that the Roman cowboys were steadily pushed further out until they ceased to be Roman, as part of a life trajectory which leads from being a poor peasant farmer and mule skinner near the city; to a "market-capitalised small landowner"/rancher further away; to a villa owner. All that's required is barbarians with lands worth taking, and a general to lead you there. It is a dynamic that requires population infilling behind the frontier of settlement, and one that argues for some kind of exogenous technological shock, as allergic as I normally am to such ideas. (Iron!) 

Oh, and dangerous barbarians poised to sack and burn Rome. What better a way for a man to die,  after all, then facing fearful odds for the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his gods?

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